The executive chief chef at Pushkar and Praza reveals his hero of Indian cookery, and why he believes in ‘Athithi Devo Bhawa’
Tell us about your cooking
My style is simple food from my heart, my mind and my memories. Understanding the ingredients to produce great taste and flavours is important, followed by the presentation of the dish. I hate any wastage in the kitchen as I believe that things need so much precious time, care and space to grow. What excites me is keeping the traditional dish as the base, then mixing and matching the spices with the understanding of what it does to the taste, flavour and the body until you get something interesting and playful that makes sense.
How did you become a chef?
Back in India, my aunty would cook things that were not normally prepared in the household. As a small boy I was intrigued and happy to be her assistant. I’d help my mum prepare dinner and when I was older I tried different dishes at every opportunity. When I finished school I enrolled onto a three-year diploma at the Institute of Hotel Management to pursue a career in food production. This led to work in various five-star hotels in India and I learned from some of the greatest chefs of Indian cuisine.
What do you eat when at home?
I am lucky to have a lovely wife who is an extremely good cook. As much as cooking is my passion, I love to have someone cook food for me.
Who’s the best chef in the world and why? And who’s the best in Brum?
I admire chefs like Alain Ducasse who runs dozens of restaurants without compromising on quality. I also admire Pierre Koffmann and the Roux family. However in my own experience the best chef in the world is the legendary grand master chef of Indian cookery Imtiaz Qureshi who I had the good fortune to work under. He is in his mid-80s now and still has the passion and hunger for his craft. He has preserved the food of the kings and Nawabs with much integrity. In Birmingham, I think Glynn Purnell is one of the most exciting chefs.
Is the customer always right?
‘Athithi Devo Bhawa’, meaning ‘The Guest Is God’ – that is what was taught in Indian culture and I believe it was the observation of some wise ancient folks. Also according to hospitality standard, the customer is always right… But some of them are not always! It’s natural that some people are not satisfied, no matter what you do. We should try to understand them and handle with care.
Share a cooking tip
While preparing rice it is important to wash it two or three times in running water until all of the free starch has been washed away, then soak it in enough water to cover the surface for about half-an-hour. This will prevent the grains breaking up during cooking and keep them light and fluffy.
What was your favourite food as a kid?
Momo – a meat dumpling encased in a plain flour pastry then steamed. It’s a Tibetan influence in Nepali cuisine eaten with ‘dalle’ chilli (a type of chilli found in the Himalayan range near Nepal and Darjeeling) and tomato chutney.
Food heaven and food hell?
Heaven is fresh home cooked food especially vegetarian dishes, eaten with loved ones around. Hell would be something overcooked, stale and reheated a couple of times – food that has no life (prana) left in it.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
To date the most unusual for me would be goat testicles.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
Maybe a schoolteacher in my hometown of Kalimpong in Darjeeling or a painter as my portrait and abstract work won awards at school, regional and state competitions.
What do you recommend from this evening’s menu?
The chingri malai curry which is a simple, flavourful prawn dish with a creamy, coconut gravy spiced with yellow mustard. It is a speciality from Calcutta, a state in India known for its fine food.
Try Bishal’s special recipe for Khubani ka Murghtori with Makai aur Hari Mirch ki Sabzi
For the Khubani ka Murgh
- 1 whole 1kg chicken
- 2 TBSP vegetable oil
- 2 TBSP kalongi seeds
- 3 sprigs curry leaves
- 3 TBSP ginger and garlic paste
- 300g plain yoghurt
- 2 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder
- 2 tsp ground fennel and star aniseed powder
- Salt to taste
- 300 ml chicken stock
- 3 green chilies ground into a paste
- 200g stoned (pitted) dried apricot (soaked in plain water for minimum 30 minutes)
- Butter as required
For the tori makai aur hari mirch ki sabzi (courgette, corn and green pepper sabzi)
- 1 ½ TBSP vegetable oil
- Pinch asafoetida
- ¼ tsp cumin seeds
- ¼ tsp mustard seeds
- 1 medium sized courgette (cut lengthways to 1 ½ inch long and ½ inch thick)
- 5 baby corn (cut in the middle lengthways)
- ½ green pepper (seeds removed and cut into thick long slices)
- 1 TBSP yoghurt 1 tsp coriander powder
- Salt to taste
- ½ tsp chaat masala
For the Khubani ka Murgh
• Joint the chicken in 4 pieces: 2 breasts and 2 legs (divide leg into thigh and drumstick)
• Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Add the kalongi seeds and fry until it begins to crackle and smell fragrant, than add curry leaves followed by the chicken leg pieces and some chicken bones, fry for 3-4 minutes or until browned on all sides.
• Add the ginger and garlic paste, stir well and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, on a medium heat. • Add yogurt and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, followed by Kashmiri chilli powder, then fennel and star aniseed powder.
• Now stir in soaked apricot and salt, fry for another 3 -4 minutes.
• Reduce the heat slightly and pour in the chicken stock. Bring the liquid to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.
• Fish out the chicken pieces from the gravy. Strain the gravy.
For the tori makai aur hari mirch ki sabzi:
• Heat the oil in a pan over a medium-high heat, then add asafoetida followed by the cumin and mustard seeds in quick succession.
• When the mustard seeds begin to pop, add the courgette, baby corn and green peppers. Stir fry for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to low and add coriander powder and salt. Stir for a minute, then add yoghurt and cook, stirring until it is absorbed.
• Finally, finish with chaat masala. Taste for balance of flavours.
For the apricot stuffed chicken breast
• Open out the chicken breast and season with salt, green chili, and the ginger and garlic paste, then place the soaked apricots in a row in the middle.
• Roll up the breast neatly and wrap it tightly in cling film to make a sausage. Set it aside for an hour in the fridge, then poach it in seasoned water for 10 minutes. Leave it to cool a little then remove the cling film.
• Heat mixture of oil and butter in a frying pan then sear the breast in the pan until golden, over a medium heat. Remove it and set aside to keep warm.
• To serve, cut the chicken breast into thick slices and place it on a warm plate along with cooked chicken drum stick, courgette sabzi and the apricot gravy.